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May 2020: Hannah Scherer

Hannah Scherer

Assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Agriculture, Leadership, and Community Education

2020 Excellence in Teaching Award from the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Virginia Tech

The award, presented by the center to approximately nine Virginia Tech faculty members each academic year, recognizes a faculty member's effective, engaged, and dynamic approaches and achievements as an educator.

Among the goals of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning are advancing experiential learning at Virginia Tech and improving student learning through research-based instructional practices and student-centered design. Scherer places experiential learning at the heart of her work as a “boundary crosser” in communities of education, research, and practice. “For both my students and myself, I prioritize the practical application of theoretical concepts to strengthen practice,” Scherer said. “I aim to design opportunities for learners to engage in authentic practice with the support of the scaffolding afforded by the educational context.”

Scherer is dedicated to learner-centered pedagogy, working tirelessly to support her students’ pursuit of meaningful learning objectives. “I believe that students should be actively engaged with each other in the meaning-making process through thinking, talking, drawing, researching, debating, reflecting, and acting,” she said. “It is my job as a teacher to design learning experiences that foster this type of engagement and then let students run with it, actively supporting them in the learning process along the way.”

Scherer also aspires to learn from her students by honoring their perspectives and utilizing their backgrounds to enhance their educational experiences. Kathleen Carper, a graduate assistant in ALCE, highlighted Scherer’s mindful and authentic guidance. “Hannah is a thoughtful educator who provides detailed and helpful feedback at each step of the learning process,” Carper said. “She is committed to helping students grow, allowing them to flourish in the way that is best for them.”

When asked about her most memorable experiences in the classroom, Scherer described a moment that not only helped to consolidate student learning, but also provided a vision for how they might put that learning into action. “My students and I did a debrief activity where we tossed an orange ball of yarn back and forth to each other, creating a web of connectivity between all of the course participants,” Scherer recalled. “It was a powerful visual representation of the systems worldview that we had cultivated together throughout the semester, and we felt empowered to go out and use our new tools to make positive change in the world.”

Scherer’s advice to new faculty reflects the center’s mission of research-based practice and collaborative instructional excellence. “Seek mentors with expertise that can help you learn to teach better and differently,” she advised. “We now have decades of research on college teaching that can guide our practice, but you don't have to know all of it. Being open to taking advice and guidance from those who are familiar with this research will make you a better teacher without having to start from the beginning.”